Zin Wars – Lake County and Paso Robles

Zin Wars – Lake County and Paso Robles

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10 unless noted otherwise.

Two Zinfandels. Two terroirs. Which will come out on top?

Hillgate 2010 Zinfandel Lake County Alcohol 14.9% by volume  $6.99 at Trader Joe’s

On the Label: “Just beyond these gates are majestic hillside vineyards that reach into the untouched and untamed wilderness of a region known for its beauty and clean air, where the wines have become notable for their fruit forward style and awards are more and more abundant. Welcome to Hillgate, “Gate to the Hills” Lake County, California.”

My Take: It used to be that Lake County had a bad name when it came to wines. No longer, apparently.  This Zinfandel had the right amount of spice, a zingy and juicy feel in the mouth, and a readiness to drink. It was still a bit young; I look forward to trying this wine next year. But over all? Yeah. I’d drink it again.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  (Why didn’t I rate it higher? Because it didn’t knock my socks off. I’m thinking it’s still young.)

Eos Estate Winery 2009 Zinfandel Paso Robles Alcohol 13.9% in volume – under $10.

On the Label: “Eos is pure Paso Robles. It is the authentic taste of a quiet, rural, viticulture frontier midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Our approach to winemaking is traditional and natural; our methods are decidedly low tech. We allow the soils and climates of each vineyard site to be clearly heard in our wines. Eos Zinfandel is juicy and lively with flavors of cherry, spice, roasted coffee and tart raspberry.”

My Take: I have no memory of this wine, at all. Which concerns me. My notes are scribbled, but I can make out a “hmmm.”  And a bit of a “well its got some spice”. Which makes me think I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. Not only do I not remember drinking this wine, I can’t remember the meal I had with it – nor did I write that bit down. It’s a blank – but I do remember finishing the bottle. So I didn’t hate it, lol.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ Though I must say I should re-visit this wine soon. I usually like Paso Robles wines, and Zins are among my favorites made there. Someone, please give this a try and let me know what you think!

As usual, this is just my honest opinion and depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ.

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?

My rating system:  Undrinkable, Barely Drinkable, Drinkable, Very Drinkable, and the ever popular Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut!


Three Unusual Reds

Three Unusual Reds

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10, unless noted otherwise.

I’m calling these reds unusual because either they’re niche reds (one distributor) or their hard-to-find reds (perhaps closeouts).

Four Vines 2009 Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel Sonoma County, California Alcohol 14.4% by volume. $8.99 at BevMo! on sale.

On the Label:  “Old vines lend depth and character to layers of silky berry fruit and spice. The wine begins with a rich fruit, then glides into a lingering sexy oak finish. Enjoy with candlelight and a friend…” Christian Tietje Winemaker

My Take: First off, I have never seen this in the grocery store. In order to find it (what’s left of it, that is), you’ll have to go to BevMo or another big box wine and spirits store. That said: This wine is made by one of my favorite winemakers, who actually sold the Four Vines label a year or so ago and is now making wines under the Cypher label. When we saw the Zin going for only $8.99 (30% off sale at BevMo!), we had it that same day to see if we should rush back and get a bunch of bottles.

The wine was good, I will say that. However, it wasn’t the stellar wine that I’ve become so spoiled with from Cypher (at 3 times the cost, I might add).  Even though its only a 2009, I’m thinking it was a wine that was made to drink young and, therefore, it has already lost some oomph for me. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a terrific bottle of wine.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ And it is a very good price.

Chessman Vineyards Reserve North Coast Pinot Noir 2009 Alcohol 14.3% by volume $10.04 on a “get rid of” sale at Vons.

On the Label: “In chess, choosing the right chessman and placing it on the right space maximizes the force of the move.  Likewise, choosing hte right vineyard that produces the highest expression of a particular varietal is the key to great wine.

Chessman Vineyards has found the perfect vineyard sites, from renowned North Coast, California, with the perfect varietal, Pinot Noir.  with its favorable exposure, climate, and soil, our North Coast Pinot Noir is the highest expression of this wonderful grape. Maximize your next move by enjoying a glass of Chessman Vineyard’s Pinot Noir.”

My Take: Okay. This label goes too far, especially since I read it after I tasted the wine. And trust me, it is NOT the “highest expression of this wonderful grape”.  I found it young, lacking in complexity (that may develop over time) and rather thin, which some pinot noirs can be. It is a cranberry color, reminiscent of a fruity Beaujolais Nouveau. I don’t know if this wine will get better over time (well, with each successive glass it does, lol). I’ve been waiting to try Chessman Vineyards, since they are usually priced above $15; now I realize I don’t need to worry about it. Note: This vineyard doesn’t have a website. I find that exceedingly strange.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ It went fine with pasta and garlic bread, even though it kinda got lost amongst the garlic.

Pacific Coast Highway Vintage 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Alcohol 14.5% by volume – around $8 at Fresh N Easy Markets.

On the Label: “The Pacific Coast Highway hugs the coastline of California and provides one of the most scenic drives in the world. It has inspired songs, poems, books; and now a wine. Enjoy the ride.

My Take: I admit, I was hesitant to try this wine as it was the third bottle I’d bought at Fresh N Easy  and the first two didn’t fare well in the Christine Rating System (the other two were reviewed here).  But dinner was almost ready and I needed to open something that befits a Wednesday night’s Mexican Plate Special. Besides, I love the name. Hubby and I got to drive PCH way up around Big Sur last March, and it was a magical, wonderful time. (Of course, after we got home, part of the highway fell into the sea…but I digress.)

So anyway, I opened, I poured, I sipped, I was surprised. The wine was drinkable straight from the get-go, no need to wait for it to air. The color is a deep purple-black and the taste, juicy and smooth. It almost tasted like a merlot, it was so mellow. It is a 2009; my guess is you’d better snap up bottles of this before it turns, and drink them now. (Does anyone other than the mega-rich or mega-snooty keep wine for more than a few months? Just wondering…)  It’s definitely an any-day wine and perfect for Wednesdays.

My Rating: ~ Very Drinkable ~ A good all-around meal wine that won’t break your pocketbook.

That’s it for this week, thanks so much for stopping by! Remember these are my opinions based on my mood, the color of the sky, and whether the cat is purring or hissing. Your taste buds will vary.

I love your comments and wine suggestions, so please feel free to give me suggestions. (I’m still working on Reislings, Kathy!)

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?

My rating system: Undrinkable, Barely Drinkable, Drinkable, Very Drinkable, and the ever-popular Stay away! This is MY wine, you slut!

3 Good Reds – and a Chameleon

3 Good Reds – and a Chameleon

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10 unless noted otherwise.

Peachy Canyon Winery Incredible Red Zinfandel 2008 Central Coast – Paso Robles, California Alcochol 13.9% by volume – $8.49 at Vons

On the Label: “Incredible Red is a great Zinfandel for everyday enjoyment. Excellent with a variety of foods from peppered stead to pasta. Consume this wine with pleasure.”

My Take: I was so astounded to see a bottle of Peachy Canyon in the store, that I reached for it, quite forgetting that the last time I’d been to Peachy Canyon Winery, I hadn’t been impressed with the wines at all. Also, the Incredible Red part of the label is big – I thought it was a blend. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was a Zinfandel blend. But I like Zins, so I was pleased.

The wine itself was also pleasing. There is truth in advertising on this label – it is, indeed,  “a great Zinfandel for everyday enjoyment”. It’s not too deep, not very thought-provoking – just tasty and welcoming. I might have to stop at Peachy Canyon, the next time I’m in Paso Robles.

My Take ~ Very Drinkable ~ Plus it has the added benefit of being a California wine that isn’t often on the grocery store shelves. A nice little tidbit to share when you arrive at your Holiday party.

Folie a Deux Menage a Trois 2010 California Red Wine Napa County, California Alcohol 13.5% by volume Under $10 at Vons

On the Label: “A delightful blend based on three varietals – Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

My Take: I’ve been a fan of Folie a Deux since I first found them a few years ago. Their red blends, however, do vary from year to year. 2009 was not Hubby’s favorite year; 2010 seems to be faring better, taste-wise. The label is nicely brief, and the name will give a certain panache to both the giver and the giftee, especially when presented with a wink and a smile in front of a wide-eyed audience. It is not, however, my favorite red blend.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  Hubby liked this one better than I did, and would rate it higher on the Christine scale. So be it!

Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma County, California Alcohol 14.5% by volume. $11.69 on sale at Vons – normally $16.99

On the Label: “Sonoma County has been our home for nearly twenty years, and we take great pride in crafting these wines from the County’s top growers and appellations. They represent the very essence of the finest vineyards from our own back yard. Our Sonoma County Pinot Noir explodes with dried cherry, vanilla, and cranberry flavors, followed by a velvety palate. Lovely with roast chicken, salmon, or ribs.”

My Take: Despite the chatty label, this is one wine you want to spend the extra cash on. It’s a step above their normal line (hence the “reserve” in the title) and it shows in a luscious feel in your mouth. This is definitely a wine to save for dinner; that first sip will allow you to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Complex, but not too complex (it is a Pinot Noir, after all), it’s a satisfying wine with an elegant label.

My Rating: Very, Very Drinkable This is one wine you will never be ashamed to give, and will be delighted to receive.

On to France…

La Vieille Ferme Recolte 2010 Rhone Valley Vineyards Red Wine 1.5 L; Alcohol 13.5% by volume $9.99 at Costco La Vieille Ferme online.

On the Label: “This full-bodied and fruity wine comes from vines grown high on the slopes of Mount Ventoux, one of the best vineyards in the Rhone Valley. It has been meticulously selected and blended by the Perrin Family, who also produce one of Frances most acclaimed wines: Chateau de Beaucastel. The blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault grapes has produced a typical Rhone valley style full of fruit and spice aromas, it has soft tannins and good body. Winemaker interviews, recipe ideasl, for all details: www.vincod.com/VFROE .

My Take: Well. This is the Chameleon wine. I must warn you my friends, Chameleon wines don’t always change for the better. I cannot swear this wine changed for the better. But I digress.

I was off at a party last Saturday night, without the hubby (all-girl party); Hubby opened this big bottle sitting on the counter. When I came home a couple hours later, he was still complaining about it. “Thick and viscous” were the words he used. The next morning, he made me take a sip of it before we went off to my company holiday brunch – it was not a good way to start my morning.

The next day, however, I had a glass while cooking. Well, I had half a glass – I couldn’t finish it. It was like the wine hadn’t made up its mind what it wanted to be. It started to open up, but it was also getting watery. Very strange.

The third day, we had nothing else open so I had another glass. This time, I finished it. And poured myself another. The taste still wasn’t the best – hubby could only drink it by adding water to it. If we had mulled it, I’m not entirely sure it wouldn’t have been a waste of brandy. Times being what they are, though, I couldn’t bring myself to pour it out.

By the end of the week, it had become a more or less presentable table wine. Something fine for us, but nothing I’d want to press on anyone else.  Which is really too bad – it’s a nice-looking bottle, and at $10 for 1.5 L, a bargain and a nice presentation to a host/hostess – but the taste rendered it ungiftable. I am VERY glad I didn’t take that bottle to the Saturday night party, as originally planned!

Why did the wine change so much? Well, wine can do that. Maybe it had rough handling crossing the Atlantic from France. Or maybe the 2010 vintage just needs more down time, and next year it’ll be a lot better. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I won’t go down this path with this wine again.

My Rating: ~ Undrinkable Chameleon Wine – Stay Away ~  Don’t let the nice bottle, the cheap price, and the French on the label change your mind. Bad wine is bad wine at any price.

As usual, this is just my honest opinion and depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ.

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?

Reds to Warm You

Reds to Warm You

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10 unless noted otherwise.

In the Northern Hemisphere, December means Winter. This year, even here in sunny So Cal it’s been chilly. We’re used to 70 degree days, not 52 degree days. And  nights below 40 degrees? Get out of town! So here are three red wines to warm you up on those chilly nights.

Found Object Carmenere, 2010 Colchagua Valley, Chile Under $10 at Trader Joe’s. 13.5% alcohol by volume

On the Label: “Context, it can change everything. Consider, for a moment, a wine among the crowd – yet not of the crowd What could be taken for granted (grape juice) becomes special when repurposed into something thought provoking. Consider this Carmenere worthy of your consideration.”

My Take: Okay, the label’s kinda weird. Like maybe the translator missed out on a few words. But at least it doesn’t tell us what to taste in the wine, and I like it for that reason.

If you’re not familiar with the varietal Carmenere, I can tell you that it was originally planted in the Medoc region of Bordeaux in France; but little of it remains there now. The largest producer of Carmenere is Chile, with a few acres planted in other places such as California, Walla Walla, Washington,  and eastern Italy.

The wine – silky. Not as easy a wine as a Pinot Noir, but not as in-your-face as a Zin or a Cabernet can be. It was the right wine, and went well with Turkey Pot Pie. This is my first time with this varietal (okay – that I can remember), and I really enjoyed it. It’s going on my list. The good part? Chilean wines are still low in price, and the quality is usually very high.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~ It’s something a little different, and any discerning hostess would be pleased to receive this as a gift when you go to your holiday party this year.

Viriato 2008  Tinta de Toro, product of Spain. Under $8 at Trader Joe’s. Alcohol 14.5% by volume.

On the Label: “A modern well balanced Toro wine, aged for three months in French oak barrels with hints of mature red berries and notes of leather.”

My Take: Viriato is a Tempranillo – and (for my sake) translating again, similar to a Zinfandel. This wine is a lovely wine, great for sipping (would go fabulous with cheese and dips!) or with a juicy steak.  This is not a “thinker’s” wine – not a wine you want to contemplate too much. It’s easy on the palate (but doesn’t “tease” your tastebuds) and has a high alcohol content – what more do you want to stir up your party? (Just sayin’.)

My Rating: ~ Good ~ Again, something a little different for your party-giving friends.

Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Alexander Valley Alcohol 13.5% by volume Regularly $17.00; $11.49 at Vons on Sale.

On the Label: “In the heart of Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley we blend our wins from small lots to fully express the essence of the varietal in each particular vineyard block. Winemaker Mich Schroeter and his team are passionate about crafting wines that engage the senses and inspire the soul. Taste profile: Black cherry and blackbery flavors and mocha nuances with a long, rich finish.  Enjoy with: Grilled or roasted beef, sauteed mushrooms and mature cheeses.”

My Take: I’m an unabashed fan of Geyser Peak, and have been since my travels to Sonoma County in the late 1980’s. We had this wine with steak, smashed potatoes and tiny asparagus and it was a lovely accompaniment to the meal. If you can get this at under $12 in your neighborhood, do – it’s a great price for a really lovely wine.

My Rating: ~Very Good~ Take this to a party only if you need to make a good impression. Otherwise, keep it at home and enjoy it with those you love. Or, you know – open it at the party and keep the bottle for yourself and one or two select friends!

Thanks so much for dropping in. Remember, these are my experiences based on my taste buds, how many near-misses the Eldest son had while driving that day, and how high the tides were. Your wine-drinking experience will undoubtedly vary. Remember – drink responsibly! Make sure you take along a designated driver to your holiday party.

~  ~  ~

The Holidays are here – time to buy your copy of DEMON SOUL! Makes a great gift for that reader in the family, lol!


Mulled Wine – In Time for the Holidays

Mulled Wine – In Time for the Holidays

A couple weekends ago, Hubby texted me from his movie shoot. “I’m freezing. It’s been sleeting/snowing/raining/snowing/hailing/snowing and I’ve been outside all day…I’ll be home in an hour, give me something HOT and ALCOHOLIC to drink.”

I had a couple open bottles of red wine in the fridge. Without bothering to look up a recipe, I tossed them into a pan, threw in a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, and a cup of water (because I remembered that, somewhere in the back of my brain). After it heated (NOT boiled), I tasted it – bitter. So I added some brown sugar – about 3 tablespoons’ worth, I believe.

It did the trick. He came home only half frozen – a hot bath and a mug of mulled wine unfroze him the rest of the way.

I got to thinking, though. Who “invented” mulled wine? Why? What’s supposed to go in it, and what type of wine should you use?  All the sites I found on the internet seemed to crib off each other. To distill it for you, basically mulled wine has been around as long as wine has been around. It warmed people up in winter (and some people said it was to make bad wine taste better – a winter version of Sangria, I suppose) as well as gave them something “healthy” to drink (because water – well, it wasn’t very clean “way back when”). It can be found in almost every European country, and is often called “boiled” or “burned” wine.  Of course, you don’t want to boil or burn the wine! (Boiling burns off all the alcohol.)


First off, start with a hearty red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel will work nicely. If you’re making enough for a crowd, use two bottles – pour into a non-reactive pan (or hey, use that crock pot you got for your wedding and has that thick layer of dust on it – make sure to clean it first). If just for two to four people, use one bottle. DON’T use the cheapest wine you can find (although if you must, go ahead…); but likewise, don’t waste an expensive bottle. Anything that you like the taste of non-heated should be fine.

Next, add the spices. This will totally depend on your tastebuds. I like two cinnamon sticks – hubby likes only one. I generally put six to a dozen whole cloves, and if I had allspice, I’d toss that in, too. You can add ginger – either 1/2 teaspoon grated, or a small slice; or you could put in 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger (but fresh is much better). I’ve seen recipes that include cardamom pods, star anise, even bay leaves. Experiment!

Your next addition should be another liquid. Amounts kind of depend. You can add up to a cup of plain water, a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice, or a cup of apple cider; many recipes call for adding 4 ounces of brandy (some say cherry brandy).  I started with water; next time, I think I’ll add brandy AND some OJ.

Then comes the sweetener. The amount depends on how much wine you start with. So you can add anything from 1/2 cup of white or brown sugar to 1 and 1/4 cup of honey;  start on the stingy side, and taste as you go. Add more if you need to. My guess is if you’re using Agave syrup or Stevia for your sweetener, you can use them here, too; just be VERY stingy with your amounts until it’s where you want it.

Lastly comes the fruit. Whether or not you’ve already used orange or apple juice, you might want to add strips of orange zest or lemon zest; thin slices of orange and lemon; either in the pot, or in the bottom of the mug.

Let everything sit on low; either on the back of your stove, or in your crockpot. As the day goes on, the spices and the fruit really open up into the wine, and turn it into something magical. Plus, it leaves your house smelling really festive.

Recipe Heaven! Here are a couple of recipes, for those of you who don’t want to guess at amounts.

From Cooks.com:

2 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 1/4 cups honey, 4 cinnamon sticks, 1/2 cup sugar, 8 pieces cloves, 1 qt. strained fresh orange juice.

Cook to nearly boiling, then add 8 ounces brandy. Cut ingredients in half to serve six.

From Just Hungry:

1 bottle inexpensive yet tasty dry red wine, 2/3 cup of raw cane sugar or white sugar, or non-artificial sweetener of your choice, juice and peel of one small lemon, 2 cardamom pods, 4 cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 cinnamon sticks.

Put everything in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sitr to melt the sugar. Heat the mixture over low heat, and leave for about an hour; it should never boil, just sort of seethe. Serve in small mugs (straining out the peel and spices), with optional shot of brandy, kirsch or other liquor.

Of course, if you Google mulled wine, you’ll get a ton of recipes – but you have the basics with what I’ve given you here. Play around, and do share if you come up with a new, tasty mulled wine treat!

From my house to yours, I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving. Come on back the day after Turkey Day, as I’m participating in a Black Friday Blog Hop!

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?